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House of Commons Hansard
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Department for Children, Schools and Families
10 October 2007
Volume 464
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We now come to the first debate on the Opposition motions. I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

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I beg to move,

That this House notes with concern the fact that fewer than half the nation’s schools are good according to the measure preferred by Ministers, that 40 per cent. of children leave primary school without having reached the standard in reading, writing and arithmetic demanded by the Government and that more than a million young people are not in education, employment or training; and therefore calls for an improvement in the leadership and culture of the Department for Children, Schools and Families to make it a stronger and more effective voice for better education.

May I say what a pleasure it is to see the Secretary of State in his place? Having read the newspapers last week, it is something of a surprise that he is here with us today because in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph just a fortnight ago—how long ago that must seem— he boasted proudly:

“I…opened the new campaign office in my constituency and told my local party it is important we're on a general election footing.”

Now that the Prime Minister has shot himself in his general election footing, I am glad that we can get back to debating the issues. However, may I congratulate the Secretary of State on something? That campaign office must be the one building officially opened by a member of the Government this year where the Minister was actually present and the building was genuinely new.

May I also congratulate the Secretary of State on something else? I was intrigued by his speech to the Labour party conference, where he made so much of where some of my colleagues went to school. I turned to “Who’s Who” to see where he might have been educated, presuming it was a properly inclusive sort of place. But imagine my surprise when I saw that no school—primary or secondary—was listed. I know that when the Secretary of State was growing up in Nottingham—fine town that it is—a very good independent boys school there sent many of its lads to Oxbridge. But in the Secretary of State’s entry—penned of course, I presume, by himself—the first establishment mentioned is Keble college, Oxford, where I read he got a first in philosophy, politics and economics. What an amazing achievement: a first at Oxford without having been to any primary or secondary school. All I can say is what everyone in the Labour party is saying: what a phenomenon.

It is a pity, however, that I cannot congratulate the Secretary of State on more, but the news from his Department during the past few months has been grim. For our youngest school children, just starting out in life, the education system is flatlining. The proportion of students achieving level 2 in maths and reading at key stage 1 is exactly the same as in 2002.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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No. Writing results have declined from 86 per cent. to 80 per cent. since 2002 and are now at their lowest level for a decade. That is a failure to support the youngest. For children at the end of primary school, making the transition from seven years of education under this Government to the testing environment of secondary school, the Government are also failing. Nearly half of children are unable to read write or add up properly at age 11: a failure to prepare a whole generation.

For young people preparing to meet the challenge of a changing world of work, this Government have failed to deliver on the basics. The number of students getting five good passes at GCSE, including English, maths, science and a modern language, is now 25 per cent. of the total, down since 1997: a failure to equip the young for a world of rapid change. [Interruption.] I notice that the hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin) is monosyllabic; he is capable of uttering only one word. If he would care to make an intervention, I shall be delighted to hear it. [Interruption.]

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Order. We are debating serious matters today. We must not have continual interventions from a sedentary position—[Interruption.] Order. From either side of the House.

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I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

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On a point of order, I was wondering whether the hon. Gentleman will take interventions from a standing position.

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Whether or not Members addressing the House take interventions is entirely a matter for them.

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Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I look forward to taking interventions in just one moment, including from the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar).

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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I will come back to the hon. Lady in just one second because it is important that she realises the scale of this Government’s failure.

We now have the tragedy of more than a million young people not in employment, education or training: wasted talent let down by a system this Government failed to reform. Ministers, and ambitious Back Benchers, cannot deny the scale of this failure, for one of their own has acknowledged it. According to Lord Adonis, a Minister in the Secretary of State’s Department, a quarter of secondary schools in this country are “wasting pupils’ talents”. Some 800,000 pupils are in schools that, according to Ministers, are simply unacceptable. As Mrs. Alastair Campbell wrote in The Guardian this week:

“With friends like Lord Adonis, Ed Balls and Gordon Brown don’t need enemies”.

How fortunate for the Secretary of State that, after last week, no one else in the Labour party is at all unhappy with him.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for eventually giving way. Last year, my local education authority was the second most improved at key stage 2 in English and maths. The children and the teachers are proud of themselves. Would the hon. Gentleman have me tell them that they are failures?

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I certainly would not. I am happy to congratulate teachers and pupils. Ministers are the people who have been failing—they are incapable of securing results. How can anyone be complacent about education in this country when 43 per cent. of young children leave primary school incapable of reading, writing or adding up properly? Labour Members might consider that good enough, but millions of parents and I are not satisfied.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Perhaps we will hear more complacency from the hon. Lady.

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Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that 100,000 more 11-year-olds attain level 4 in maths now than in 1997?

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As I said, 40 per cent. of children leave school incapable of reading, writing or adding up properly. Since the hon. Lady mentioned mathematics, is it not a scandal that fewer than half the people who teach it in secondary schools have a degree in the subject? After 10 years of massive investment, there is still a failure to provide the teaching that we need. There is complacency among Labour Members and a desire for change among Conservative Members.

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The hon. Gentleman is strong on statistics for where we are now. Would he like to rattle off those for where we were in 1997 after 18 years under the Tories?

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As I have already pointed out, fewer people are getting five good passes in good GCSEs, including maths, science, a modern language and English, now than in 1997. As the Minister knows, the Office for National Statistics has pointed out that productivity in education has fallen under the Government. Again, there is complacency among Labour Members and an agenda for change in the Conservative party.

I mentioned Lord Adonis, the Minister’s colleague, whom he failed to defend at the Dispatch Box. I am sure that full notice of that will be taken at the other end of the Building. Although Lord Adonis may be more candid than prudent, the Secretary of State should be grateful to him because his honesty emphasises the need for genuine reform to improve our education system. It also creates an opportunity for the Secretary of State to live up to his noble Friend’s high hopes and prove himself to be a genuine reformer.

When the Secretary of State first appeared at the Dispatch Box a few months ago, we offered to work with him and with the Liberal Democrats to advance reform. Since then, I have been encouraged and heartened by the Liberal Democrat leadership’s bravery in embracing greater choice and control for parents and moving away from a defence of producer interests. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) deserves credit. I am sure that he will give me none in his speech, but I quite understand. Given his party’s poll ratings and his position as leader of his party’s sensible tendency, he has to put up a pretence of anti-Tory feeling. We shall not hold it against him.

However, while there has been a movement towards consensus around genuine reform from the Liberal Democrats, there has been the opposite from the Secretary of State. Far from moving forward, he has gone back; far from modernising, he is retreating. Way back in 2005, when the right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) was Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the then Prime Minister wrote a preface to the Government’s education White Paper. For those on the Labour Benches who cannot remember him, he was a chap by the name of Blair. Sadly for them, he is no longer in the House and is therefore incapable of filling the great clunking vacuum at the top.

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I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to reform. Does he favour the support from part of the Conservative party for the reintroduction of grammar schools?

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I have no idea from where on earth the hon. Lady gets that idea. We support good schools, wherever they exist in the state system, and oppose the Secretary of State’s attempt to undermine them. Wherever there are good schools, we will back them rather than undermine them for party political reasons. We are not selective about championing excellence.

In his preface to the education White Paper, the former right hon. Member for Sedgefield argued that,

“reforms must build on the freedoms that schools have increasingly received, but extend them radically. We must put parents in the driving seat for change and to underpin this change, the local authority must move from being a provider of education to being its local commissioner and the champion of parent choice.”

He wanted

“genuinely independent schools in the state sector”.

I could not put it better myself. The case for reform is clear, urgent, modern and rejected by the Secretary of State.

In his first statement to the House, the Secretary of State slammed the brakes on reform. Academies were told that they could not open if Labour local councillors wanted to deny parents that choice. Far from being built on, freedoms were further restricted. New academies were told that innovation would be stifled and that they would have to follow a much more restricted curriculum. Since then, he has moved backwards further and faster. In his speech to the Labour party conference, he played to the left-wing gallery, making it clear that the educational establishment would stifle innovation, encouraging Labour LEAs to take an even bigger role in interfering in schools and slamming the door on genuine independence for new state schools and genuine choice and control for parents.

The Secretary of State cannot provide the change that the country needs because he has made himself a prisoner of the forces of educational conservatism. He has even fallen back on the lamest mantra of them all—a line so hackneyed that even the Prime Minister felt he had to abandon it as too threadbare a cliché. The Secretary of State said that he believes in “standards not structures”, but, as Tony Blair was forced to concede,

“I shifted from saying ‘it’s standards not structures’ to realising that school structures… affect standards.”

That is the truth that the Secretary of State denies, and why he is doomed to fail.

What makes the failure worse is that, at the same time as the Secretary of State thwarts any chance of structural reform, he fails to drive though a genuine improvement in standards. Indeed, he does the opposite. Far from using every lever at his disposal to insist on rigour and excellence, he has been afraid to take on the establishment that presides over mush and muddle in our curriculum.

On the Secretary of State’s watch, we have been told that children should have five-minute lessons because they cannot pay attention for longer. His bureaucrats said that children should mark each other’s work because that is more liberating and his people took Churchill out of the curriculum because he was no longer considered relevant to today’s children. Our most courageous Prime Minister no longer relevant? I suppose I can understand why this Government would want him written out of history. What happened only when we objected to the change—not before? The Secretary of State rang round the newspapers, shifted the blame on to his officials, said that he was not consulted and promised to change course not, I think, your finest hour, Secretary of State.

A Secretary of State who was determined to drive up standards would put rigour back in the curriculum and give children the chance to take pride in our national story. However, under this Secretary of State, there has been a refusal to show any courage in taking on the entrenched interests who stand in the way of excellence. I fear that he has been interested in only low partisan politics and shallow tactical positioning.

We have had no leadership on reform or standards and no honesty about funding. Only yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer failed to level with us in his pre-Budget report—a document that would earn a fail in any examination for being copied from someone else’s work. We were promised an extra £250,000 on personalised learning for every pupil, but that amounts to only £34 for every school student—just enough to buy a copy of “Courage” by Gordon Brown and pay for 20 minutes of teaching time. With that book and only 20 minutes, one could probably help any class learn the meaning of “hubris”.

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rose—

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Speaking of hubris—

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The hon. Gentleman mentioned the pre-Budget report and the comprehensive spending review. Is he defending Tory party policy of putting £2 billion into the hands of 9,000 of the country’s richest families rather than investing it in health and education, as the Government will?

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Is the hon. Gentleman in the right debate? We are discussing education, not reading out tired, photocopied lines from the Labour Whips Office, which will not save him in High Peak. He should start campaigning for better education instead of trying to curry favour with the leadership—it will not help him. We have already been promised capital funding for schools, in the Building Schools for the Future programme, but so far only 14 of the promised 100 new buildings have materialised. The rest are just not there. They exist only in Ministers’ imaginations and in Labour party press releases—a bit like photographs of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

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rose—

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And talking of ghostly images.

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The Select Committee on Education and Skills recently issued a report on the sustainable school, which deals with Building Schools for the Future. We applauded the Government’s slowing down of Building Schools for the Future, because the process needs full consultation with the school if we are going to get the schools right. We said clearly that we much preferred the delay, so that local communities, the students and teachers could participate in the process of designing their own schools. We get good schools that way. The hon. Gentleman should please not make any easy assumptions without reading the report.

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I am glad to see that the ghost of education policy past has now become the spirit of fearless truth, in pointing out that the Government have failed to deliver on time and that it is time they thought again. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s candour in at last finding the courage, valuable virtue as it is, to criticise the Government.

To add insult to injury on funding, the Government are now clawing back money with a retrospective levy that plunders the balances of good schools to fund their own agenda. Sharp practice and hypocrisy, excellence penalised and central control stifling good practice—a perfect snapshot of Labour’s attitude to education. So no progress on structural reform, no bravery on standards, no honesty on funding—what does that leave as the Balls agenda? Naked, narrow partisanship.

In an interview that the Secretary of State gave to the New Statesman in 2006, when he was still just a humble Back Bencher—well, a Back Bencher anyway—he explained why he disliked more independence for schools, distrusted the reform agenda and disagreed with the stewardship of the Department for Education and Skills under the right hon. Member for Bolton, West. What was needed, he said, was to

“get back to a clear dividing line on education policy”—

not constructive reform, not a consensus for change, not children first, but division as our future.

Since that time, the Secretary of State has been as good as his word. Conservatives and Liberal Democrats now agree on the need for greater parental choice and control. Even the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), the man who was campaign co-ordinator the last time Labour actually won an election, now agrees with us. Modernisers in every party now champion the case for greater parental control. There is a growing consensus for change, but the Secretary of State wants to divide and just says no.

There is another consensus as well. All three parties were agreed that a pointless assault on existing good schools was a distraction from the key issue of our time, improving education for the most disadvantaged and for those in failing schools. But what has happened under this Secretary of State? On Saturday—I wonder why it was then—the press were briefed by his Department:

“Labour wants to reignite the political row over selective education by making it easier to force the closure of…local grammar schools.”

How cynical can one get? When their judgement was found wanting, their egotism backfiring and their hubristic plans imploding, what do these Ministers do? They try to reignite a political row, try to sow division and try to shut down good schools. Instead of learning from what makes schools successful and arguing for the adoption of appropriate policies across the state sector, as we have, with our comprehensively excellent campaign, they prefer to play silly political games and abdicate their responsibility to govern in the whole national interest. They prefer the easy course of pursuing class war to the hard work of securing improvements in every classroom.

But then, that is all of a piece with the cynicism that the Secretary of State has brought to his office. Invited on the radio to discuss our children’s future, all he was really interested in was his clique’s future. He talked of election timing and mused on where the “gamble” would be, treating the serious business of government as though it were a casino game in which they could treat people as mere counters to be shoved around at their convenience. But when the chips were down, the Government folded. They were tried and found wanting, tested and found hollow, totally incapable of being trusted any more. It is time for real change that puts pupils and parents first. It is time for the Conservative agenda.

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I beg to move, To leave out from “House” to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

‘commends the real and substantial improvements achieved over the past decade in educational standards and welcomes the Government’s commitment to a world class education for all; applauds the unprecedented investment in education over this period, so that per pupil revenue spending has increased nationally by £1,840 per pupil (66 per cent.) in real terms between 1997-98 and 2007-08 and that by 2010-11 there will have been a seven fold increase in real terms in capital investment since 1996-97; acknowledges the proportion of pupils achieving the required standard in English at age 11 increased from 63 per cent. in 1997 to 80 per cent. in 2007 and in maths from 62 per cent. to 77 per cent.; further acknowledges that the proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSEs (at A*-C grades) increased from 45.1 per cent. in 1997 to 58.5 per cent. in 2006 and from just 35.6 per cent. to 45.3 per cent. for those achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths; notes that in 1997 there were 616 schools where less than 25 per cent. of pupils achieved five good GCSEs and that this number fell to 47 in 2006; welcomes the proposal to raise the participation age for education or training to 18 years; further welcomes the launch of the first five Diplomas as a key step towards this objective; and further commends the 10 Year Youth Plan and the creation of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, bringing together strategic leadership for all services to drive up standards, tackle poverty and ensure all children and young people have a safe, secure and happy childhood.’.

May I say that it is a great pleasure to debate the track record of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, just three months after it was established in July? Notwithstanding today’s Opposition motion, which I shall come to later, or the rather Punch and Judy, pugnacious speech that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) gave, I welcome the courteous and serious way in which he and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) have taken up their new shadow responsibilities since July and the support that they have given the new Department. I am grateful to them for the proper and helpful discussions that we have had over the complex issues around safeguarding and the work of Sir Roger Singleton in recent months. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath for the honest and mature way in which he praised the achievements of our A-level students this summer, in marked contrast with previous shadow Ministers.

I also welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for our new independent standards regulator, which I announced two weeks ago. I also welcome his blessing for the review of speech and language therapy being led, with his full support, by our mutual friend, the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). So despite today’s motion, I am pleased to stand across the Dispatch Box from the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. In spite of our differences, it is my hope that we can make more progress in the coming months to forge a deeper and wider consensus on what needs to be done to give every child the best start in life and to give every young person the chance to fulfil their potential.

Just three months after the Department was first established, I hope that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath and hon. Members on all sides of the House can agree that we have made some real progress. Since July we have welcomed the best key stage 2, GCSE and A-level results ever; we have expanded personalised learning and launched Every Child a Writer to help children in primary schools who are falling behind; we have reformed the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to establish a new independent standards regulator; we have raised the bar on standards for discipline and introduced new powers for head teachers to tackle truancy and bullying; we have signed up 12 additional universities to get involved in sponsoring academies; we have opened our first 30 trust schools; we have launched our first five new diplomas; we have set out a 10-year plan to transform youth services; we have introduced new standards for school meals and more hours of school sports; and we have started a national children’s plan consultation. The Department is showing that it is a strong and effective voice not just for better education, but for every child and parent in this country.

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The Secretary of State has not yet mentioned the families side of his Department. I appreciate that the Department is new and that he is probably going to come on to this, but will he say whether part of his brief will be to support and strengthen family relationships, and in particular to consider the needs of separated families, on which the Department for Work and Pensions is looking to his Department to help with the new information and advice service?

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That was the first serious contribution to this debate from Opposition Members. I am happy to say that we will support all families in this country, whether they are married, single-parent, separated or divorced families. We will never tolerate an approach to supporting family policy that stigmatises or counts as second best those families that are separated, widowed or divorced. That is why we reject the approach to family policy that was set out by Opposition Members earlier this summer.

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When the hon. Member for Surrey Heath was speaking very prettily, taking time off from moonlighting as a journalist, did my right hon. Friend notice that, unlike the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), with whom I had the pleasure of serving on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, which dealt with such issues, he never mentioned families at all in either his motion or his speech?

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My hon. Friend is quite right.

As I have just said, this new Department is a strong and effective voice for education for every child and every parent in this country. And, as the Chancellor confirmed yesterday, the new Department has also secured a further £450 million for the spending review period on top of our budget settlement, which will mean that education spending will rise to record levels and that we will have £21.9 billion of schools investment over the next three years, which will deliver 400 more secondary schools and 675 new primary schools. It will also mean that every school will become an extended school, full details of which are being published this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners. It will mean more schools capital investment in the next three years than in the entire 18 years of Conservative Government between 1979 and 1997.

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I am listening carefully to the Secretary of State, as I did when he had his former job in the Treasury. He has given us a catalogue of what he considers to be the great successes. If there has been so much success, why are so many of our children failing to read and write and failing in maths at the age of 11? If everything is so wonderful, what has gone wrong to allow this to happen?

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I am coming on to that point right now. But before I do, I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in praising the 700 per cent. increase in capital investment that his local authority will be getting in today’s announcement, compared with 1997. I hope he will put out a press release to congratulate us on that.

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Will the Secretary of State give way?

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In a sec.

As the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said, we should start by agreeing that, despite the substantial progress that we have made, there is still some way to go before our education system can be described as world class. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that fact today. He is right to point out that 23 per cent. of young people are leaving primary school at 11 without having reached level 4 in maths, that the figure is 33 per cent. for writing, that 40 per cent. are not reaching level 4 in reading, writing and maths at key stage 2, and that too many 16 to 18-year-olds are leaving school and college without proper qualifications. I agree that that is not good enough.

Putting the debating points to one side, let us go back and look at the history. In 1997, it was not 20 per cent. failing to make the grade in maths; it was 38 per cent. In 1997, it was not 20 per cent. not making the grade in reading, but 33 per cent., and it was not 40 per cent. not making the grade in the three Rs, but 57 per cent. So let us agree that, although we have further to go to be world class, we are going in the right direction and we have made substantial progress from what was a desperate, taxing inheritance.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will also agree that the reason we have made substantial progress since 1997 is our investment and our reforms. We have 38,000 new teachers and more than 100,000 more teaching assistants, and more than 1,100 new schools have been built rebuilt or refurbished. There has been a 25 per cent. fall in permanent exclusions. Another fact not reflected in the hon. Gentleman’s motion is that the number of failing schools—those that do not have 25 per cent. of students gaining five good GCSEs—is down from 616 in 1997 to just 47 today. I want to go further: I want to get rid of all of them, but the fact is that there were 616 when his party left office, and the figure is now down to 47.

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The Secretary of State just touched on the subject of exams, and I wonder whether he shares the concerns of head teachers in my constituency about the quality and consistency of online exam marking. A growing number of actual grades are varying significantly from the predicted grades; this is happening to a worrying degree. Some of the exam boards are now moving to oral online marking. If this situation is not reviewed and monitored, the problem is likely to increase.

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If the hon. Lady goes to the House of Commons Library, she will find that the capital allocation for her local authority area is up 5,000 per cent. since 1997. On the particular point that she has raised, the reform that I have announced in recent weeks to establish an independent standards regulator will give parents and teachers the confidence that the exam boards are doing a good job and that standards are not declining. I will make sure that the standards regulator looks at the precise issue she has raised.

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Was it not significant that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) failed miserably to cite the figures for the 1997 key stage 2 results? I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has put the record straight. Furthermore, if we are going to have a serious debate on this matter, should we not recognise that simply because a boy or girl does not reach level 4 at key stage 2, it does not mean that they are illiterate? We need a far more considered approach to describing the abilities of children who do not reach level 4.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I think that, outside the Chamber, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath would agree. I have found it is possible to have a serious conversation with him outside, although perhaps not in this debate. Of course it is not the case that a child of that age who does not reach level 4 cannot read, write or do arithmetic, but they are not doing as well as they should be to prepare for going on to secondary school. That is what we want to turn around. It was striking, however, that, despite the intervention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners, the hon. Gentleman failed to acknowledge the progress that has been made since 1997. It is impossible to have a serious, rational debate unless he can acknowledge that we have made substantial progress, although there is much more to be done.

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rose

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I will not give way. I want to make some more progress, then I will take an intervention.

Let us acknowledge that there has been a transformation of investment and reform, and that that reform has been accelerated by me in recent months and not been set back. I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath for our programme of catch-up tuition for those falling behind in writing and maths, but I say to him that if he wants a serious debate on educational reform, he needs to monitor a little more closely the standard of the Leader of the Opposition’s articles on education policy before they are submitted. The proposal by the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)—[Hon. Members: “Right hon.”] The proposal by the right hon. Member for Witney a few weeks ago that children not making the grade at 11 should be held back for an extra year in what would soon become overcrowded primary school classrooms was roundly condemned by head teachers and parents alike because it just would not work. Rarely have I seen a policy announcement fall apart so quickly under scrutiny. It is the Leader of the Opposition who needs a little extra help with his writing.

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Over the summer recess, I spent a week in one of my comprehensive schools shadowing the teachers. It is a very good school, with very high standards and excellent teaching—[Hon. Members: “A comprehensive school?”] Yes, it is a comprehensive school. And yet, there were at least half a dozen year 7 pupils—they had just started secondary school—in one of the maths lessons who did not know the difference between an odd number and an even number. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has made some practical suggestions for how we might avoid children going on to secondary school in that state. The Secretary of State is new in his post and he must be fizzing with ideas. How will he deal with this problem? How are we going to stop children going to secondary school not knowing the difference between an odd number and an even number?

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I apologise to the hon. Gentleman: for him, we have managed only a 308 per cent. increase in capital allocation over the next few years, compared with 1997. I say to him that if we are serious about educational reform, we must intervene early through Every Child a Reader, Every Child Counts and our new Every Child a Writer programme. We must do this when children are five, six and seven years old to stop them falling behind. The proposal that we should say to parents or teachers after the key stage 2 results that we are going to keep their children back in primary school for another year was laughed at by parents, teachers and head teachers alike. It was a piece of spin with no substance behind it, and it was not the only proposal that failed that test.

While the hon. Member for Surrey Heath is looking at that proposal, he should also look at the proposal by the right hon. Member for Witney to abolish appeals for exclusions. He needs to remind the right hon. Gentleman that independent appeals were introduced by the previous Conservative Government, and that last year only 130 of 9,170 exclusions were overturned, which is less than 1.5 per cent. He should also remind the right hon. Gentleman that if independent appeals were abolished, hundreds and possibly thousands of head teachers would be forced by a Conservative Government to defend their decisions in the courts. That would be no way to back head teachers.

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Is it true that a pupil in Manchester who was found to be carrying a knife last year was ordered to be returned to the school when the matter went to appeal?

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I think that the claim of the right hon. Member for Witney that that was the case has been rejected as incorrect by the school and its governors, so the hon. Gentleman should look at his facts before making those sort of allegations in this House.

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The Secretary of State said a moment ago, in spite of claims by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), that he is accelerating the pace of reform in his Department, so may I test him on that point? Is the Department’s policy still the same as it was in the Blairite manifesto of 2005—to make all secondary schools “independent specialist schools”? Does that remain the policy?

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As the hon. Gentleman knows, our policy is to ensure that every secondary school is a specialist school, an academy or a trust. That is my policy and I back more independence for governing bodies. Of course that is the case, and I want to accelerate the academies programme. What I have done is abolish the £2 million entry fee and encourage universities and high-performing public sector organisations to come in and support academies. I am also very pleased to say that local government leaders—Labour, Tory and Liberal—have been coming forward to propose academies. As for the idea that I should reject such proposals because, by definition, they come from local government, I have never heard such an anti-local government statement before. It is absolutely ridiculous.

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I am grateful to the Secretary of State, who I think is clarifying the position, but I am not quite sure why he finds it so difficult to repeat the words that appeared in his manifesto of 2005:

“We want all secondary schools to be independent specialist schools.”

Is that still the Department’s policy?

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Of course I stand entirely by the manifesto on which we fought the election. [Interruption.] It would be worth checking whether the Leader of the Opposition is also supporting his current policy on grammar schools. After all, the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) thought he had the Conservative leader right behind him, only to be stabbed in the back in the reshuffle. Anyone who thinks that I am scaremongering might like to check last week’s speech to the Tory conference fringe by the Leader of the Opposition’s university chum and putative Mayor of London, the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), in which he called for a return to—and I can quote him exactly—“good, old-fashioned academic selection”. Good old Boris!

I have to say to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath that if he is genuine in his support for our mission to drive up standards for all children and to give every child the best possible start in life and if he really wants to reduce the number of young people not in education or in training after 16, he must agree to back our plans to increase spending per pupil in state schools to today’s private school level and to raise the education leaving age to 18.

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rose

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I have already given way several times.

We know that this is where the right hon. Member for Witney and the Conservatives get into difficulties because they cannot match those commitments and cannot guarantee the funding to pay for them. The Conservative party’s commitment to substantial tax cuts for the few and what the Leader of the Opposition called “dramatically lower public spending” mean that the Opposition cannot match our spending or our commitment to world-class education.

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In an attempt to build a spirit of consensus, I welcome the fact that the Government have used the most benign economic conditions of any post-war Government to increase expenditure on education—just as any other Government would have done. Why is it, however, that some local education authorities such as Worcestershire have not shared in that increase and have fallen further and further below the national average per pupil spend?

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I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that over the past 10 years, education spending has risen by 5 per cent. a year in real terms. Between 1979 and 1997, it rose by only 1.4 per cent. a year, so it is clear that when the Conservative Government were in power, they failed to achieve their objectives—[Interruption]—despite all the lobbying.

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rose—

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rose—

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No, I will not give way. I had reached the point in my speech where I was about to explain why there is no consensus on education policy in this country. The reason is that there is no consensus on tax and spending policy. Yesterday in this Chamber, we saw a shadow Chancellor who was exposed in the full view of national scrutiny for making tax-cut promises that he cannot afford, for being left with a £2 billion black hole and for getting his sums wrong. Before Opposition Members lecture me on our national numeracy strategy, I suggest that they draw up a strategy to improve the numeracy of their own Front Benchers. Before running down the achievements of our Every Child Counts programme, they need to ensure that they have a shadow Chancellor who can count. As we all know, the shadow Chancellor’s sums simply do not add up and he has not reached the required standard to make progress. It is the shadow Chancellor who needs extra help and one-to-one tuition and it is the black hole in his plans that fatally undermines Tory education policy.

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rose

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No, I am not giving way.

While the Conservative party remains committed to tax cuts for the wealthiest few, which it cannot afford, every parent in this country will know that our schools would not be safe in its hands, that progress on standards would be put at risk and that economic stability would be undermined. Only last week, at the Conservative conference, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath slammed what he called a trendy 1960s culture of liberal teaching, but his problem is that his party remains stuck in a 1980s culture of fiscal irresponsibility and tax cuts for the few, which would mean spending cuts that would hit standards in our schools and set back our children’s future. It is the hon. Gentleman’s party that needs a culture change and his party that needs to examine its leadership. Until it does so, there will be no consensus on education policy in this House.

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I am pleased to take part in this important debate—the first full-scale debate on the new Department and its responsibilities. I hope that the Minister for Schools and Learners will sum up and that he will be able to explain the apparent contradiction between the Secretary of State’s position today in respect of the Labour party manifesto and the Department’s own recent position.

The manifesto, as the Secretary of State was kind enough to confirm and support, was very clear about the Government’s commitment to making all secondary schools “independent specialist schools”. Despite that, the most recent departmental answer from the Minister for Schools and Learners stated:

“It is not this Government’s policy to make all secondary schools independent specialist schools.”—[Official Report, 23 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 889W.]

There appears to be a 180° contradiction between the Blairite manifesto on which Labour Front Benchers stood and the position that the Department has now taken. Perhaps in the hours between now and the end of the debate, the Minister will be able to explain that contradiction.

We are happy to support the motion for the reasons suggested by both the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and, in fairness, the Secretary of State. There are clearly enormous deficiencies in our education system today—notwithstanding any improvements over recent years—which are quite unlike those in many other advanced countries that do not have our enormous under-achievement. We do not support the motion without qualification, however, as we would have liked the hon. Member for Surrey Heath to put in a little more on policy issues at the end of it. I appreciate that with the magpie nature of the present Administration, he may have feared that by the time he sat down, the Secretary of State might not only have stolen his homework but copied it out and handed it in. Perhaps that explains the absence of any proposals that could have been nabbed by the end of the Session.

I also hope that the last sub-sentence of the motion does not indicate the tendency on the part of the Government and the Prime Minister to think that educational achievement and delivery in the public sector is dependent on Government Departments rather than on individual schools and other units that deliver the improvements. We will not deal with the major issues facing children in this country simply on the basis of letters sent out over the summer by the Secretary of State or improvements in leadership in the Department.

Inevitably, the debate has so far focused mainly on the schools element of the children, schools and families agenda. In winding up the debate, will the Minister for Schools and Learners therefore touch on some of the other important elements for which his Department has responsibility, as I presume that the rationale for bringing together the Department was to cover all children’s issues?

Despite the Secretary of State’s speech betraying to a large extent his origins in the Treasury, given its focus on public expenditure and other matters, we have not heard much so far about the issue of child poverty and its centrality to the Government’s objectives. The pre-Budget and spending statement yesterday included some large items of expenditure and revenue-raising, on inheritance tax and non-domicile tax, and the Chancellor gave the impression that something significant was happening on child poverty. But, as ever, the documents show an enormous gap between what the Government say they are doing on the child poverty agenda this year, next year and the year after, and what they are actually doing. The additional expenditure in the pre-Budget and spending statement amounts only to about £30 million in the coming year and £60 million beyond that. Will the Minister therefore indicate to what extent the Government retain a genuine commitment to meet the 2010 child poverty target, which the current policy steps do not come close to matching?

Will the Minister also confirm which Department is taking a lead on the issue? Many of those who are concerned about the children’s agenda, particularly the child poverty lobby, are worried about the apparent lack of a lead Department on child poverty. In the documents released with the spending review and the pre-Budget report yesterday, I read that the Treasury is now taking a lead role on the matter. How will the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Children, Schools and Families integrate with the Treasury?

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In Sheffield, the capital investment budget for the next three years is more than £80 million, which is a long way from the single figure investment in 1996 for the whole city. Does the hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that investment in our schools and creating decent places for children to learn in are an important part of raising attainment and tackling poverty?

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I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s point, which takes me on to the next section of my speech: funding issues. Before I address that question, I remind the Minister that we seek clarification of which Department is taking the lead on child poverty, and how his Department will work with that lead Department.

I accept the hon. Lady’s point that capital expenditure in schools has been transformed since 1997, and there is not a head teacher in the country who would say anything else. Again, however, there is a gap between the Government’s spin on the issue and the reality. We heard from the Chancellor in his statement yesterday that the additional capital expenditure would mean a new primary school in every local area. My heart leapt at the possibility that south Somerset or perhaps even Yeovil might benefit. Only when we look at the detail of the statement do we discover that “local area”, for me, means Somerset. Therefore, out of the 250 schools, Somerset will get one additional one.

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rose—

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Is the Minister going to announce that he has Yeovil in mind?

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I could talk about the 490 per cent. increase that Somerset will have received by the end of the spending period, compared with 1997, or the £88.6 million that that represents over the period. Is the new building that I am about to open in Yeovil in a few weeks reality or spin?

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My point was about the statement made yesterday, and I think that the Minister is agreeing with me by trying to shift the ground of the debate. One new primary school in each county is not quite the same as one in every local area. He is always welcome in my constituency, both to open new schools—I did not appreciate that he was coming, and I hope that he was going to give me good notice; he has now—and at other major establishments. The Secretary of State would also be more than welcome.

The Secretary of State, who has been intimately involved in the Treasury and public expenditure matters for a long period, will want to appreciate that although funding has seen an enormous step change since 1997—or, more accurately, 1999, but I will not revisit earlier arguments—which has led to a big improvement in school funding, as all head teachers recognise, the schools budget is now entering a much tougher period. The figures for the rate of increase in the schools budget were tweaked a little yesterday, and those of us who are suspicious about such matters will notice that they were increased to the extent of the last decimal point to allow the Government just about to deliver on their pledge to increase the share of education spending in GDP—we were dangerously close to a period in which that would contract. Education expenditure will, none the less, grow far less rapidly—perhaps half as rapidly as it has since 1999—which will lead to a much tougher position for schools, especially in catering for the pay increases that will necessarily take place.

We have also had the rather ludicrous and meaningless pledge from the former Chancellor, now the Prime Minister, on schools funding—to increase the level of per pupil funding in the state sector to that in private schools. That sounded fantastic until many of us discovered in the small print that it meant that the Government would manage in 2021 or 2022 to get state school per pupil expenditure to the level of that in the private sector in 2006, or 2005. At virtually all times in the history of our country, it must have been the case that those who were reliant only on the state sector were funded at the same level as those in the private sector 20 years earlier. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State mutters from a sedentary position. If he wants to correct me, I shall give way, but my understanding is that the Government are saying that it will take until 2021 for pupils in the maintained sector to have the same level of real funding as the private sector had in 2005-06. That is the rather meaningless pledge that they made.

I make that point not only to demonstrate the weakness of the commitment but to urge a policy on the Secretary of State and the Minister. The Secretary of State has talked a lot about consensus today, and it might be possible to have some consensus about how school funding should be focused in the years ahead when the system has less money. There is quite a lot of magpie-ism in politics today, because three or four years ago my party proposed a pupil premium that would target the most deprived pupils and give them additional money that would follow them through the school system. Over the summer, the Conservative public services working group report proposed something initially called an advantage premium, which sounded quite like the pupil premium but was nothing like as generous in the details. Not only has the hon. Member for Surrey Heath had the good sense to try to pinch our policy, but he has shifted the name of his policy from advantage premium to pupil premium. I assume that he is aligning himself completely with Liberal Democrat policy on the matter.

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I hate to make the discussion an incestuous love-in between the two Opposition parties and exclude the Secretary of State, but I fear that he is excluded, because the policy in which we believe is indeed close to the hon. Gentleman’s, to that outlined by Professor Julian Le Grand, who advised the former Prime Minister—we used to have a reforming Prime Minister on education—and to that outlined by the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) after he resigned from the Cabinet. There is a great deal of consensus; it is a pity that the Government are not part of it.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that comment, but before the love-in goes too far, I want to observe that I am not sure that his policy is quite the same as ours if it is the same as it was in the working group, which published its work over the summer months. My understanding of the Conservative party’s proposal is that extra funding for needy pupils would be supplied on the basis of pupils in “failing” schools. That would be a much smaller number than we have in mind and also appears to be funded by redirecting other moneys in the budget.

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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that as well as having a pupil premium, the additional money that goes into an area because of increased deprivation should come with a pupil if he or she crosses a boundary—for example, when a pupil in Hull, near my constituency, comes to an East Riding school? Although the Secretary of State is not listening, I hope he will look again at the need to ensure that money that has been properly attributed to a pupil travels with that pupil if he or she moves out of the local authority area in which he or she resides.

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I am sure that is right. I hope that the Government will develop their own policy on that. A deprivation review by the Government is considering how schools and pupils are funded. If the Government do not have any new money, it will be difficult for them to do anything radical, which is why we identified a new source of funding for the pupil premium by taking people out of the tax credit system.

Although there is a deprivation-related aspect in the existing formula, the way in which it is passed on to schools is opaque and inconsistent. Some schools with a large number of pupils with high levels of needs and deprivation are getting a lot of additional money to help them with the extra challenges involved, but many schools, especially in rural areas and in communities that do not have the deprivation that some of our other communities sadly have, do not have anything like the funding that they need to deal with the serious challenges that they face from pupils with high levels of deprivation, which is closely linked to poor educational performance.

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The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about funding. Why does he think that Stockport metropolitan borough council, one of the local education authorities under his party’s control, is so reluctant to spread a greater share of the resources that it has at its disposal to the more socially deprived areas of the borough, such as Reddish?

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Given that Stockport is a Liberal Democrat-controlled local authority, I am sure it is doing the best that it can with the money given to it by the Government. My argument is that additional sources of funding should go into the pupil premium and that it should target deprivation wherever it is. Given that there appears to be the possibility of a consensus, that the Secretary of State has a review of deprivation-related funding, that his Department is making it an even more explicit policy objective to narrow the gap between pupils with high deprivation characteristics and the rest of the school population, and that the major effect of increasing expenditure in terms of its impact on results seems to be felt by those pupils with high levels of needs and deprivation, I hope he will widen the review to do something a little more ambitious.

I also hope that in the context of funding, the Secretary of State and Ministers in his Department will continue to do what they have been seeking to do over the past couple of years and address the continuing funding gap between the schools and further education sectors. Some modest progress has been made towards that, but there is still a long way to go.

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I do not wish to press the point too much, but the issue is not that Stockport, a prosperous borough, should have more; it is that Reddish, which is a more socially deprived part of Stockport, should get a greater share of the resources that Stockport has at its disposal. Stockport constantly says that it should have equal funding with Manchester city council and Tameside metropolitan borough council, two more-deprived neighbouring authorities. That is nonsense. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree, however, that Reddish and other socially deprived parts of the borough should get a greater share of Stockport’s very generous allocation?

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As the hon. Gentleman makes his point in a serious way, I will reply in a serious way. He would not expect me to be an expert on the level of per pupil funding in Reddish, but if he and his colleagues adopt the policy that I am trying to persuade them to adopt in their magpie-type mode, it would deal with the problems that concern him.

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The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing for an overall increase in the Department’s budget nationally. How would his party pay for that?

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We published proposals on that in July. We would take more people who are higher up the income distribution scale out of the tax credit system. The tax credit system is ludicrous. Tax credits are designed to help those in the greatest need, yet they go to people 90 per cent. up the income distribution scale. I am sorry to say that our proposals have not been given enough publicity to attract the hon. Lady’s attention. I am happy to send them to her. Our proposal would take money, within a tight and constrained public expenditure round, from those people who should not be the priority of a Labour Government and give it to those who should be in terms of educational opportunities.

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rose—

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I shall give way to the hon. Lady, assuming that she is about to make a serious point.

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Only to say that there is a big black hole in the hon. Gentleman’s spending plans, which would not help children to raise their levels of attainment.

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I think that the hon. Lady thought up her supplementary question before listening to my answer. I am happy to send her all the documents. If she wants to criticise our proposals on tax credits, that is legitimate, but she cannot claim that there is a black hole, because there is not.

May I also press the Minister for Schools and Learners to say a little more about standards and structures, which the hon. Member for Surrey Heath touched on? There clearly has been a significant change in Government policy. As the hon. Member for Surrey Heath indicated, in one of his last education speeches the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said that

“over time I shifted from saying ‘It’s standards not structures’ to realising that schools structures…affect standards.”

In the Secretary of State’s first statement, he turned the situation around and said that it would all be about standards rather than structures. He went back to 1997, 1998 and 1999. That has left people rather baffled about what message the Government are trying to send out.

Does the Department have a clear and coherent policy on whether it is in favour of reform and changing structures to drive up standards? On the one hand, the message that it is sending out is that there has been a change—a break from the Blairite years, more focus on standards, and less obsession with structural change. Indeed, the Minister’s reply in July contradicts the Labour party’s manifesto position on wanting every maintained secondary school to become an independent school.

On the other hand, we have all these nods and winks from Ministers to those that they want to keep onside that there are no changes. On the day before the Secretary of State’s first statement, an article in the Financial Times, a reputable newspaper, said that it had been briefed that the academies programme would be cut back and throttled—[Interruption.] It was not members of the Conservative party who said that; I fear that it was members of the Secretary of State’s Department.

There are nods and winks to the unions and others indicating that the position is changing; yet when the Secretary of State is challenged on the Floor of the House, he says, “No, no, no. We haven’t changed anything at all.” Are the Government trying to keep the same policy, but pretend to their Back Benchers and others that there is a change? Have we got the old policy, or are we moving to a new policy that goes back to the standards issue?

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Does the hon. Gentleman not recall that in that statement to the House I announced a series of reforms that will mean that we can go faster and have more academies?

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I do, but I recall a lot of other people telling me at the same time that the messages coming out of the Department, with a nudge and a wink—[Interruption.] The power of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath may be great, but it is not that great. It does not extend to some of the people that I have been talking to.

I think that the Secretary of State is maintaining that there is no change in policy, and he has loyally signed up to the Labour party manifesto position on independent secondary schools, despite the fact that the Minister for Schools and Learners has contradicted him in parliamentary answers.

I invite the Secretary of State to tell us why he chose, in his very first statement as Secretary of State, to say something about the standards versus structures debate that appears completely to contradict what the former Prime Minister, after his long experience, said was his belief about the way in which the education system should develop.

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I am happy to do so. It is good to have a serious debate about education policy.

In that statement I announced a series of changes, or reforms. I changed the £2 million funding requirement and the national curriculum requirement. I also said that the goal of structural change was not reform as an end in itself, but that reform was justified when it drove up standards. I believe the academies programme is doing that, which is why I support it.

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That helps me to some extent, but the fact remains that the Secretary of State chose to say in his very first statement that he was going to put standards before structures. He is bright enough—easily bright enough—to know that what he was doing was contradicting the former Prime Minister. The former Prime Minister would never have said that structural change was an end in itself in which he believed for the sake of it. He said that he wanted structural change because it was the only way of driving up standards without flogging the system from the centre. The Minister for Schools and Learners nods, but the Secretary of State retains his slogan about putting standards before structures, so we are still a bit baffled.

If the policy is really unchanged, will Ministers make clear today what it is in the academy model about which they are so passionate? Is it simply that the Secretary of State wants to keep various people in the Department and retain the academy model so that he does not appear to be an anti-moderniser, or does he really believe in it?

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It is raising standards.

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Ah! In that case, my supplementary question to the Secretary of State is this: what aspect of it is raising standards? Is it the flexibility that academies have, or some other aspect of the academy model? And when we have an answer to that question, may we know whether the flexibilities and freedoms that academies have perhaps—in the view of the Secretary of State—used to drive up standards will be extended to other schools or gradually throttled back, as some people, legitimately or illegitimately, fear?

The Minister pretends not to understand, although he understands very well. I am asking him, when he sums up the debate, to put clearly on the record why he is in favour of academies, whether it is their flexibilities that he welcomes, and whether he agrees with me that if those flexibilities are a good thing they should be extended to more schools.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Of course.

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I apologise for intervening on the hon. Gentleman again. I took only two interventions from him, and he has now taken three from me. But if he looks at a leaflet produced by the Newington Liberal Democrats in the summer of 2007, the Newington ward “Focus”, he will see this quotation from a Liberal Democrat councillor:

“We have seen how the new City of London Academy in Bermondsey and the Academy at Peckham have transformed education in the area with state-of-the-art buildings and facilities”.

There we have a Liberal Democrat explanation of why academies have been driving things forward. I would suggest that leadership and innovation are further reasons for that, but in any event there are real reasons why academies in disadvantaged areas are driving up standards, and that is why I support them. The hon. Gentleman should listen to the substance of what is said by the Liberal Democrats and our party, rather than listening to the spin of the Tories.

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Now we know what all the extra people whom the Labour party has been hiring in recent weeks have been doing: they have been going around collecting copies of Newington Liberal Democrat “Focus” leaflets.

I do not disagree with any of that. I was trying to get the Government’s position on the record, but I was also trying to tease out the view of the Secretary of State and his Department on why academies are a good thing, if that is what they really believe. I should also like to hear later whether the Secretary of State wishes the powers and freedoms of academies to be extended to schools.

The Secretary of State is waving the leaflet. I should be delighted to look at it later, although I see all these things before they are sent out anyway.

The Secretary of State may wish to intervene on another issue, that of reform of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and its independence. I am delighted by this further magpie move by the Government—I may give credit to the Conservative party on this occasion. It is rare for the pinching process to work in this way, but the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, at least, has claimed that he advocated the policy some time ago. I am delighted to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) advocated a similar policy in August, and was condemned by the Schools Minister for trying to undermine confidence in the examination system.

I think it is a good thing that the Government are to seek to make a portion of the QCA more independent. There has been a breakdown of confidence in the examination system in recent years, and this move may have a real effect. Many educational institutions, particularly private schools and high-performing state schools, are considering opting out of the existing qualifications framework altogether. That is worrying, because we risk a return to the days when the Secretary of State and I were at school, when there were different qualifications for people with different abilities. We do not want to discover that the existing qualifications are regarded as second-grade, and only for some schools.

I do not believe that the Secretary of State has yet published his consultation paper on the independence of part of the QCA. If I have missed it, I apologise. We look forward to playing an active part in the consultation on the independent model that the Secretary of State proposes. I ask him, however, to retain an open mind on whether additional elements of the management of our education system could do with rather less politics, and rather more of the expertise we have seen in some of the other models that the Government cited in the letter that the Secretary of State kindly sent to us on the day of his conference speech, letting us know of the proposed changes to the QCA.

In paragraph 8 of the letter, the Secretary of State said that

“the Government’s approach has been to develop transparent frameworks for decision-making by an accountable body”.

That related to other changes, including the change in the position of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, one of the policies in which the Secretary of State was particularly involved in 1997. The Secretary of State proceeded to develop the argument, explaining that he sought to do the same in respect of the QCA changes.

The problem with the changes that the Secretary of State is making is that—as I think he would be the first to admit—they are far more modest than the Monetary Policy Committee changes, which transferred a major area of decision making to a separate body in relation to policy, with overarching strategic control from the Government. As the Secretary of State is honest enough to admit in paragraph 9, the proposal for the QCA, although worthwhile, is indeed far more modest—namely the creation of

“a distinct independent regulator of qualifications and tests.”

Creating a regulator is very different from seeking to establish a greater distance between the decisions of Ministers and decisions about what type of education obtains in every school in the country.

I believe that all sorts of additional elements could be included in the Secretary of State’s independent model which would allow us to engage in more sensible, intelligent, rational debate about the curriculum, and might lead to more independent sampling of pupils over periods of time to judge whether examination standards or pupils are changing. We should also be thinking, at least, about whether not a reformed QCA but the type of education standards authority that we were beginning to discuss when the Secretary of State came along and announced his policy—

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A different policy.

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It is slightly different. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for mentioning that.

We should think about whether a body of that type could also commission independently work on education standards and how to improve them in schools, in a way that would not leave it to the passing fads espoused by Ministers to establish that this or that particular way of learning was in vogue.

I do not know whether this applies to the body that the Secretary of State envisages, but I believe that many people in the country may feel that aspects of education policy and the curriculum have been excessively politicised over many years, and that—without losing strategic political control and returning to James Callaghan’s description, pre-1979, of education as a secret garden—we should take some of the politics out of the issues. I am not sure whether the Chairman of the Select Committee is hovering, waiting to intervene.

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On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should be grateful if you would tell me what protection Back Benchers have in this debate. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) spoke for 21 minutes; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke for 23 minutes. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) has so far spoken for 32 minutes, more than twice the maximum allowed to Back Benchers. Are Back Benchers to be given an opportunity by the Liberal Democrats to speak in the debate?

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The right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to catch my eye in due course, but I must say that it is incumbent on Front-Bench spokesmen to keep a strict eye on how much time is available for the debate as a whole.

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I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the right hon. Gentleman are right—although I have been excessively generous in giving way to the Secretary of State—and I shall raise only one further concern about Government education policy before giving other Members a chance to speak.

Are the Secretary of State and the Minister for Schools and Learners still committed to the harsh—almost authoritarian—model that they seem to have been proposing for the upcoming education Bill of later this year, which will have the worthy aspiration of keeping as many youngsters as possible in education until the age of 18? Is the route that the Government envisage going down of criminal sanctions on both children and parents the right one, or could we not usefully adopt a more entitlement-based route with a greater degree of flexibility about when people take free education? Would that route be not only less authoritarian, but more effective for many of the youngsters who drop out of the education system at 16—many of whom are, for a variety of personal reasons, not ready at that stage to engage in the type of activities that the Secretary of State thinks he can oblige them to engage in under powers of criminal imposition?

I have mentioned a number of the issues that we will want to raise over the weeks and months ahead. Sadly, since the former Chancellor became Prime Minister the Government have lost direction in their long-term thinking not only on economic strategy, but in many areas of public service delivery. There has been a magpie approach of selecting policies from others for short-term political gain. We hope that if the Secretary of State continues that magpie approach, he will do so in respect of some of the serious issues that have been debated today rather than for short-term political effect.

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I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 15-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. That applies from now on.

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When I first saw that there was to be an education debate in the first week after the recess I was delighted, but I became rather depressed when I saw its terms. We all know where certain figures come from, and we all know that figures can be bent or skewed—or spun, even. People across the political spectrum whom I respect are angry about the terms of the debate, which feed views that come from the right of the political spectrum, as represented by Politeia, Civitas and the Adam Smith Institute, and which continually denigrate state education in our country.

I do not think that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) would ever have tabled such a motion, and I am disappointed that we have begun after the recess on this note. I hope that in future the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) will reflect on the fact that it is fine for Members who so wish to conduct themselves in this Chamber as though they were taking part in a student debate in the Oxford Union, but that a clever debate can be held without resorting to rudeness and ridicule. That is not how to try to establish a good relationship across party divides with those of us who care very much about the education sector.

A new evaluation of Members of Parliament was published this morning in which 5 per cent. were deemed “outstanding”, 40 per cent. “good”, 40 per cent. “satisfactory”, and 10 per cent. “inadequate”. It appears that 5 per cent. will be put into special measures. There was, of course, no such poll, but if there had been there would be much resentment among Members who were not in the “satisfactory” or “good” category.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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No, let me develop my point.

I talk to head teachers and school staff around the country, and that is the sort of resentment they feel. Many of them remind me of an interview that I had with Ofsted three years ago, in which “satisfactory” was suddenly deemed not to be satisfactory and instead it was necessary to be deemed “good”. There is a changing world for schools, and we must remember that it damages them if we constantly drag out statistics that suggest that a high percentage of children are being failed and are not being well served by the education process.

I know that all sorts of statistics can be produced, but when we carefully examine them some surprising facts can occasionally be discovered, and I want to remind the House of one fact about research conducted in 1994. There was tremendous complacency about how well our primary schools were doing. People were making speeches saying that we had the best primary education in Europe, but the Conservative Government conducted an evaluation and found that achievement of the required standard in English was as low as 44 per cent. and for maths was as low as 42 per cent. We must pay tribute to the Conservative Government who decided to conduct that test—although it did so rather late in the day—because that was the start of the process of trying to find out exactly how our children are doing in school.

Since then, there has, of course, been a tremendous improvement. I was in touch with the university of Buckingham this morning, which was disappointed about the allegation of a 40 per cent. failure rate at 11. The general view is that the underachievement rate is about 20 per cent. There have been tremendous increases in literacy and numeracy—the rates hover at about 78 to 80 per cent. That is a remarkable change, and the fact that we have much higher standards is down to the teachers, the heads and the students in our country.

We should also look at the context in which some schools operate. Serious educational academics give evidence to my Select Committee. Professor Gorard, for example, says that we should look at the schools that do not have the highest achievement rates in context, because the schools that face the most challenging circumstances are likely to be classified as failing. He said:

“The last time I looked at the schools that were being put through special measures and so on, they were disproportionately inner city schools with high levels of disadvantaged children and so on.”

The 20 per cent. underachievement rate in primary schools is a problem. A substantial proportion of that 20 per cent. are children with special educational needs, children from families who have recently settled in this country and children who have had a really bad start in life, with bad parenting and little home support.

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Does that not reinforce the point that I tried to make earlier: that it does those children or their parents no service when the Opposition continuously to refer to them as failures? Many such children come from extremely difficult backgrounds and have serious learning difficulties, and merely because they fail to reach level 4 at key stage 2 or do not achieve five A* to Cs at the age of 16 does not mean that they are failures.

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My hon. Friend makes a good point. He and I listen to the evidence presented to the Select Committee, and that is what we find. I repeat that it helps no one to exaggerate underperformance in our schools, whether at primary or secondary level, or even at 16 to 18.

I take issue with some correspondence that recently appeared in The Times. It used to be a good newspaper—I think that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath had a hand in its steady decline—but one contributor to the correspondence was Clarissa Farr, the high mistress of St. Paul’s girls’ school in the City of London, who decried the failure of state schools. After I read that, I looked at what the Leader of the Opposition said to his party conference:

“And yes, I went to a fantastic school and I’m not embarrassed about that because I had a great education and I know what a great education means. And knowing what a great education means there is a better chance of getting it for all of our children which is absolutely what I want in this country.”

In many ways, that was a very good thing to say, but people who decry state education encourage parents around the country to ask whether it is good enough for their children. That encourages the flight from local and community schools that I described earlier.

I wrote to The Times making it clear that I go to more schools than most Members of Parliament, and that in most of them I see high achievement, good leadership, excellent teaching and fantastic learning. I will not undermine that achievement, but I know that schools want a fair chance to achieve. It is all very well for the high mistress of St. Paul’s girls’ school, or people who went to Eton, to decry state education, but their backgrounds do not include poor kids on free school meals, or pupils with special educational needs, or looked-after children. I believe that the teaching staff of the elite schools would deserve to be examined very closely if their charges did not get five straight As at A-level and go on to the top universities.

I want to make the very serious point that schools in our communities depend on a fair distribution of population. Recently, I visited a school in Maidstone in Kent, where there is a cluster of three secondary moderns among many grammar schools. One secondary modern was doing exceptionally well, with two-thirds or three-quarters of its pupils going on to higher education. What Labour Members know, and Opposition Members deny, is that the overall performance of all children in Kent, despite that county’s selective education and grammar schools, is very poor and is below the national average. The children there who do not get into the selective schools do not get the same chances as children elsewhere in the country.

When 65 per cent. of a school’s pupils have special educational needs, and when 100 per cent. of its pupils are on free school meals, the task facing any headmaster is very challenging, however inspired the leadership and teaching. Those problems must be borne in mind when we discuss our country’s education sector. The Select Committee has looked at school admissions and performance, and head teachers have told us time and again that what they need is the opportunity to have their school populations made up of children with a fair range of abilities, because only then will they be able to show what they can do.

In contrast, the flight from schools in town centres that I have described occurs when parents believe that such schools cannot be as good as schools three miles away. It is assumed that the latter must have nicer children, but the result is that schools in town centres are of a lower standard because they are not able to teach all the children from their local communities. That is the lesson that people who went to Eton, or who teach at St. Paul’s girls’ school, need to learn; otherwise they may not understand the problem as well as they should.

I have been accused of being the ghost of policies past, but I want to discuss one aspect of being an elected representative in this House. I believe passionately that people who want to give their children an independent education should be able to do so. We live in a free society, and Andrew Adonis was right to tell the independent head teachers last week that the Government have no plans to stop people sending their children to independent schools.

Moreover, I do not hold any hon. Members responsible for where their parents sent them to be educated. That was a choice for our parents, not for any of us, but we in this House are public representatives and it matters where we send our children. Regardless of which party is in government, we will never get decent schools unless we understand that people in the electorate will not elect someone who does not have confidence in state education and who does not send his or her children to the schools attended by the children of ordinary voters. I hope that, when the next election comes, a website will be available that shows voters precisely where prospective Members of Parliament choose to send their children.

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Not all Labour Members would be happy about that.

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The hon. Gentleman points his finger across the Floor, but I know of only one or two Labour Members who would not want to make that information available. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I would say the same to them as I would to hon. Members in other parties.

I shall conclude my remarks in a moment, as I am aware that there is a shortage of time in this debate. The hon. Member for Yeovil spoke for a long time, which reminded me of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), a former Liberal Democrat spokesman on education. However, I think that today’s presentation surpassed even the previous record.

My final point is to say that I disagree strongly with my party’s Front Benchers. For six years, I have taken evidence as Chairman of the Education Committee, and I am very interested in where our education policies come from. This is a famous year, as it marks 20 years since the introduction of the national curriculum, and 10 years since the publication of the Dearing report. Sometimes, our political parties can act consensually—as they did, for example, and for a time, with higher education, the national curriculum, testing and assessment, and Ofsted.

When we are able to reach such a consensus, education takes a leap forward. At the moment, however, it is clear that the Conservative party rejects that consensual approach, as evidenced by the appointment of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath as its spokesman. That is disappointing, but I hope that the Conservative party will return to the centre ground and make common cause with the rest of us. If we work together and communicate with each other, we can ensure that our children’s education—and the education sector as a totality—will prosper.

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rose

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Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that, although there is a 15-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, the entire allocation need not be taken up.

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I should like to be able to say that it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), but I had trouble understanding some of the rules and regulations that he seemed to lay down about where people should send their children to be educated. However, I agreed with the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) when he said that there has been far too much politics in education and teaching over the years—a fact that I can endorse fully.

When I was a teacher in an inner-London secondary school, all classes had to be mixed ability, even though some children could barely read and write. Teaching such children was not an edifying task, and I still admire the way in which teachers struggle with pupils who are similarly ill equipped for secondary school. Mixed ability classes remain, and because of the absence of a system based on sets or streams that suit individual children teachers cannot teach to a child’s ability.

Teaching is a hard job. I attended my local state school, and I am grateful to have been lucky enough to be taught well there. I get heartily sick, as do many of my colleagues, of the issue of where we go to school being used as a political football. Having taught in an inner-London comprehensive school, I suggest that it would be more edifying if more people focused not on where we went to school but on what our schools are like and talked to teachers doing the job.

Teaching is a hard job and we cannot thank teachers enough. They have put up with so much rubbish being thrown their way over the years. They have had experimental schemes, such as the initial teaching alphabet in reading. They have had to teach mixed-ability groups, even though no one knew whether the system would work or how to help them to make it work. Now we have massive school discipline problems.

Like many mums and dads, I have been a parent governor and a parent helper, helping pupils to read and so on. Teaching is hard work and there is always challenging behaviour, but teachers are not helped by some of the regulations that stop them removing challenging pupils. The Conservatives propose that schools should be able to exclude pupils who repeatedly flout school rules.

Many parents have to draw up home-school agreements, but realise that they are not worth the paper they are written on, not because of a lack of good intentions on all sides—from the pupil, the parent and the school—but because the school has absolutely no sanction to ensure that agreements are implemented. Pupils who do not want to engage productively in education, whose life mission is to disrupt the education of others—I have taught some of them—quickly wise up to the fact that there is little that the school can do. Their attitude is, “You can’t get rid of me, guv”. Schools can do little to ensure that such pupils stop making the lives of teachers and other pupils a misery.

I wish there was a formula for totting up the number of wasted classroom hours and opportunities, the missed trips and the lack of creative work because of the disruptive pupil at the back who will not allow the class to study. Such a system would show why some teachers have been tearing their hair out over the years. Many teachers would welcome being given back the authority that they used to have but which has been undermined by slack uniform policy, and by policies that schools cannot enforce or that are flouted by parents or pupils.

We need firm and reasonable home-school agreements, but if, once all opportunities have been exhausted, the school wants to exclude a pupil, it should be able to do so. The exclusion should not be overturned by some other body, to the annoyance of the school, which then has to take back a pupil who is waving a metaphorical two fingers in the air and continues to behave disruptively. I urge that aspect of our policy on the Secretary of State and hope that he will focus his energies on school discipline, not through sanctions but by giving power back to schools to run things as they see fit.

I struggled with the hon. Member for Huddersfield’s assertion that people do not want to send their children to inner-city schools. Some of the best schools in my area are in the inner city. I am not a geographical person. I believe that what makes good schools and good learning practice are teachers, pupils and parental support, not necessarily the location of the school and whether it has state of the art equipment.

We should not deprive our schools of what they need to do their task, but I am sometimes amazed that people who pontificate about what our schools most need often look only at statistics and not at the value added in schools by hard-working teachers. I recognise the irritation expressed in the sedentary comments of some of my hon. Friends when they hear claims that we have been referring to “failing” schools. It is the pupils who are failed, not the school or teachers who are failing. Pupils are failed by our inability to ensure that they have the right learning atmosphere in school. That is what we have to tackle.

I am an old-fashioned girl. I went to a Church primary school; it was tiny, and older and younger pupils were taught in the same space—we did not have separate classrooms—but the teaching was excellent. Why? It was because the school had an ethos of excellence supported by parents and pupils. If we did not behave at school we were quickly sent home, and if my parents thought I had been in trouble at school—God forbid—I soon knew about it.

The atmosphere at my school was completely supportive. Parents left out of the equation, or who feel helpless, often tell me that they cannot make their child do things because the child knows he can get away with it. We need to ensure that schools are given back the power to re-establish relationships.

Funding is especially difficult for schools. Serious consideration has been given to special educational needs funding in Hertfordshire—a subject about which I am passionate and which the Conservatives have explored. Special educational needs cover a wide spectrum. It is hugely positive, encouraging and inclusive for some pupils to be educated in the mainstream state system, but other pupils do not have that experience. I have met families whose severely autistic children have been statemented. The parents wanted to take their SEN funding to a special school that met their child’s needs. Like me, they believe firmly that each child should be taught according to their ability in the school that the parent feels is right, which includes an education that is tailored to the child’s needs. We should not try to insist that every child is shoe-horned into mainstream education under an inclusiveness policy that actually excludes the child, who may simply sit at the back of the class unable to participate fully.

I am sure that we have all heard of hard cases—of parents asking whether they can take their SEN funding to a special needs school. Unfortunately, the pendulum seems to have swung in quite the other direction and parents can no longer take the funding to the school of their choice. I feel passionately that there should be more special needs schools.

We should have excellence in schools, but we cannot produce it simply by measuring the number of targets that have been met. Our teachers have been bogged down by targets. The only target should be whether a pupil leaves their education happy, having developed and achieved their potential and can engage in a productive working life with employers who recognise their qualifications.

I am extremely concerned about the idea that we should force young people to remain at school until 18. Having taught truculent 15-year-olds, who have no interest whatever in gaining formal qualifications, I imagine that teaching truculent 18-year-olds would be far worse. The first school at which I taught was in Feltham. Its pupils were not high achievers academically, but many of them were hugely engaged by the car maintenance classes. They learned craft or job-based skills, which they might not necessarily use when they left school, and it was recognised that such courses were better for them than subjects to which they were not suited.

If we insist that pupils remain at school until they are 18, the Secretary of State will need a radical rethink of the curriculum; otherwise, there will be a raft of pupils and parents at loggerheads with the local authority, because young adults will be forced to attend school rather than to choose what they want to do with their lives. Compulsion at that age is not the right way forward and I am extremely concerned about the proposal. I shall watch its progress with interest.

I am fully aware that other Members want to speak, so I shall conclude my remarks.

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The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) is a trenchant, amusing speaker, and he has shown this afternoon that he can make his case in a concise manner. On the other hand, I do not know how he had the cheek to table the motion before us about the standard of education for the children whom we represent. During his party’s period in government, right up to when we came into office in 1997, there were local schools in which teachers taught pupils while rain came in through the roof. At Stanley Grove community primary school, they taught music on the stairs. The primary school classes were overcrowded. State schools with 14,000 pupils were starved of money, while £2.25 million a year went to fund assisted places in the three independent schools in my constituency—90 of my constituents had assisted places.

Now, class sizes have been reduced, which has led to new classrooms being opened in schools all over my constituency. That is partly funded through the new deal for education. Let us remember that both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives tried to prevent that new deal by voting against the windfall tax funding for it. Primary school children in my constituency get free fruit and vegetables every day. There is far wider computer availability and, again, that is because of the Government’s funding.

Major projects are going on in my constituency as a result of the Government’s policies. St. Kentigern’s Roman Catholic primary school, which I visited only last week, would not have been able to operate—it would have been destroyed—if the quotas amendment in the House of Lords, backed by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, had been made in the last Session. St. Kentigern’s has banners outside the school, in the middle of a council estate, proclaiming with pride the fact that Ofsted gave it a report that makes it one of the country’s outstanding schools. The school recently opened a novel and marvellous brain zone, which gives the children new opportunities. That is partly thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who was formerly Secretary of State for Education and Skills.

I shall be at All Saints primary school in Gorton in my constituency a week on Friday to open its new foundation stage unit. That unit will support the new early years framework, in which children aged between three and five learn through play in a stimulating environment. While I am at All Saints, I will present the basic skills quality mark award, which the school has won for the second time. Last month, William Hulme’s grammar school in my constituency—one of the three independent schools that took up £2.25 million of my constituents’ taxes—became a city academy within the state system. Now, instead of parents paying £8,000 a year in fees to send their boys and girls to that school, no one will pay anything in parental fees, and academic selection has been abolished. It was an all-boys school, but now it is a co-educational school for pupils aged between 3 and 18. As a result, parents’ applications to send children to that school have doubled. The school is working towards a pupil roll of 1,000. There is £10 million in Government-funded capital for building to improve the school and increase its capacity.

Off Mount road in Gorton, there is Cedar Mount high school, which exists only because, at my request, a Labour Secretary of State rejected proposals to close down its predecessor on that site. Cedar Mount high school is to be part of an educational village, which is being built now, and which will be completed for pupils next year. There will be two schools on that site: Cedar Mount high school and Melland special needs high school. It is a wonderful sight to see. There will be a two-storey 100m internal street, a sports hall, a community wing, a learning resource centre containing a library and information and communication technology facilities, special subject zones for science, humanities and English, an on-site medical suite offering physiotherapy, and a hydrotherapy pool. That is what Labour Governments finance, and that is what the Labour Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme has made possible.

Further up in Gorton, there is the Wright Robinson specialist college. It is a sport and art college, but only because a Labour Secretary of State designated it as such. Before that, it was simply a high school in decrepit buildings that were falling to pieces. The staff were doing a very good job in difficult circumstances. The Building Schools for the Future initiative has launched a project that is on its way to completion, and which cost £33 million in private finance initiative money. That state-of-the-art school will have 1,750 students. The facilities will include a 25m swimming pool, eight courts, a four-court sports hall, two dance studios, a fitness unit, and a free weights room. All of those will be available to not only the 1,750 students at the school, but the local community in Abbey Hey and Gorton. All that is being achieved by a project that this Labour Government launched. Every classroom will have ICT links. There will be seven designated ICT classrooms.

Those are achievements in my constituency in Gorton. If I were not conscious of the time limitations, I could move on to other areas across my constituency and describe how achievement after achievement is being made possible. Of course, that is done through the dedication of the teachers, who are wonderful, the governors and the pupils themselves, but it is made possible by this Labour Government, working with the Labour-controlled Manchester city council.

We have been reminded that the new name for the Department is the Department for Children, Schools and Families, so I should point out that all over the Gorton constituency Sure Start projects are making life much easier for parents. In Longsight, the brand-new Sure Start building, which cost £3 million, is being used for a Muslim women’s learning project. We have just gained further finance for that, again as a result of the activities of the Labour Government. There are Sure Start projects all over my constituency.

I agreed with almost all of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). I disagreed with him on one point that he made when talking about people being allowed to go to independent schools. Of course, I concur with him on that, but he said that parents wanted to choose that option. In my case, had my parents’ choice and ability to pay been the governing factor, I would have gone to the nearest secondary modern school, because that was the choice at the time for working-class children whose parents were factory workers.

What I want now in this state system is for parents to be able to choose the school that they want their children to go, and that includes faith schools. That is why I am pleased that the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which was welcomed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Catholic Church, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews, championed the right to have faith schools. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives would have destroyed faith schools by imposing 25 per cent. quotas on them and wrecking the ethos of faith schools. Last week, I visited the KD Muslim grammar school in my constituency—I present prizes to its pupils. That school would not have been made possible had the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives had their way, but the Labour party rejected that approach and as a result we have these schools.

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If I said what my right hon. Friend believes I said, I shall immediately correct the record. I meant to say that I do not blame anyone for their choice of school for their son or daughter. I did say that we in this House are responsible for where we send our sons and daughters.

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My hon. Friend and I have not differed in all the time that we have sat on these Benches, and we shall certainly not do so now.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath is not only a trenchant speaker, but a literary chap, so I shall conclude by quoting from “The Return of Sherlock Holmes”:

“‘Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’

‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.’

‘The dog did nothing in the night-time.’

‘That was the curious incident’, remarked Sherlock Holmes.”

The curious incident of the dog in the afternoon today was the hon. Gentleman’s deliberate failure to refer to grammar schools. The Conservatives have got themselves into a huge tangle and when he was challenged, he was not able to get himself out of it. He made a nice quip to try to do so, but the fact is that the Tories have got themselves into a mess over grammar schools from which they will not extricate themselves. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that although the Government have achieved nowhere near everything that Labour Members want to achieve, they have nevertheless done wonders in my constituency. My constituents want the Government to go on doing so and that is why they want a Labour Government to continue.

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It is a pleasure to be back in the House and to find that we are discussing education so early in this parliamentary Session. I am glad to see that the Secretary of State has come down from his excitement about general elections and stopped running around the studios telling everyone that there should be one. He indulged in partisan banter in his conference speech and gave the most humiliating and poor performance in a television studio. Anyone who has not seen it should go to YouTube and search for “IDS versus a load of Balls”. They should be able to find the interview and see that the Secretary of State was not fulfilling the requirements of his position.

However, the Secretary of State came to the House today in a spirit of humility, perhaps as a result of his recent experiences, and he was honest about standards. Although many Labour Members were crying out that the Conservatives should not throw light on areas where the current education system is not doing well enough, it turns out that the Secretary of State repeated the key statistic that appears in today’s motion—that nearly half of pupils are leaving primary school without the educational attainment that we on both sides of the House hoped to see.

The Conservatives have been clear about the need for greater independence in the setting up of schools and about encouraging more academies. Today’s debate has served a purpose by slowly getting the new Secretary of State to change his attitude that structures do not matter and to recognise that they do. Although in his speech he showed no enthusiasm for the academies programme, in his answers to the questions from the Liberal Front Bench, he started to express enthusiasm. We are excited by the prospect of setting schools free and by the belief that those areas of the country where we see the poorest performance, often in inner cities, where local authorities and the Government have not managed to provide adequate opportunities for kids, there is an exciting programme of innovation and change, with parents having a stronger role in determining how schools are run.

The Conservatives will help that by removing the requirement for external donations. We want a single academy contract so that outside providers can run nationwide networks of schools to a high standard, allowing pupil choice—a word that did not appear once in the Secretary of State’s speech—to help drive change. I do not know whether this is true of colleagues in the House, but I do not see choice as an end in itself. I see choice as the lever of change, which parents in areas where the schools are not good enough can use to raise standards. Parental choice can be exercised to insist on new schools and on changes to schools that are failing. That is the point of the change agenda. It is not an end in itself; it is about raising standards.

That is why we are excited about the new academies. The Secretary of State is not quite there yet. We want to see whole-class teaching, streaming and setting. We want robust discipline brought back. We do not want rhetoric from the Government. We want the reality. We know that even in the toughest areas, traditional teaching can work. We do not want a return to the 11-plus. Our party has not got itself into a knot about that. We are focused on improving standards in all schools, and we believe that the points that I have made are the way to do that.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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I do not have time to do so and I will end up stealing someone else’s time, so if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall press on.

There seems to be movement from the Government on synthetic phonics, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has pushed for some time. It was kind of the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), to credit the Conservatives with having pushed that forward. We also believe in a rigorously enforced uniform policy, strict standards of discipline, a strong ethos in the school, and setting by ability throughout the school. The Minister recently stressed that parents from low income families should not find themselves unable to afford that uniform. I hope that he will not contradict our desire for a strong uniform policy, which should be mediated by common sense—I am glad to see him nod.

The Minister would not expect me to do otherwise than raise the issue of education funding. I have done so on many occasions in private meetings and in debates with the Minister. Beverley and Holderness, which is part of the East Riding of Yorkshire, has the fourth lowest education funding in the country. The gap between the best funded authorities and the lowest funded is growing. None of us denies that the best measures of deprivation available to any Government should be used, but the fact that the gap between places like the East Riding and other areas should increase over time is deeply regrettable. I pay tribute to the fact that despite very low funding and the costs of delivering education in a rural area—on which the Minister has previously commented, for which I am grateful to him—and thanks to the teachers, the pupils and the effort made by the Conservative-run East Riding of Yorkshire council, together they have delivered significant, consistent and ongoing improvements in standards. I do not want to take a private comment out of turn, but the Minister might say that doing so well with so little diminishes the strength of the argument for having more. That is not true, however, because money should go to where it can best be used. In the East Riding of Yorkshire, our schools have shown that they can do very well.

I have mentioned to the Minister that Beverley grammar school, which is a comprehensive school in Beverley, Beverley high school and Longcroft school are three outstandingly successful schools. The head teachers from all three schools have mentioned their demoralisation as they try to deal with the funding pressure. I hope that the Minister will examine that issue.

In an earlier intervention, I mentioned the cross-border issue, and I will not miss this opportunity to ask the Minister to re-examine it. That issue may be at the margin, but every pupil who leaves a deprived area of Hull and attends an East Riding school should bring with them some of the funding to provide the extra support that they may well need. That would not be a huge change. The comprehensive spending review has just been announced, and there is an opportunity to make that change in the interests of justice. I know that such a change would be extremely popular in my local area, and it would create gratitude among local people towards the Labour Government.

Finally—I am sure that I will be waved at, if I am using too much time—I want to discuss skills. As the Minister knows, the Leitch review, which was commissioned in 2004, produced the report, “Skills in the UK: the long-term challenge”. The report congratulated the Government on positive aspects of the education system, but it also pointed out that more than one third of working-age adults in the UK do not have a basic school-leaving qualification, that 5 million adults have no qualifications at all and that one in six adults do not have the literacy skills expected of an 11-year-old. The Government have rightly pointed out the need to improve skills, because the number of unskilled jobs will decrease dramatically in the next 20 years. In my local area, FE colleges have experienced funding pressures, and they see a discrepancy between how schools are treated and how they are treated. Adult courses are a way to feed adults with low skills back into education, but such courses have been closed down and people have been priced out. Given the comprehensive spending review, this is an opportune time for the Minister to address some of those issues.

I have said that I will not speak for overly long, so I will draw my remarks to a close. The new CSR is out and a new Secretary of State is in post. We need to support the innovation of academies and set schools free. We also need a Secretary of State who speaks with the same passion about the need to raise school standards as he does about the destruction of the Conservative party. I hope that the improvement in standards is more of a reality for the Secretary of State than the disappearing chance of a disappearing Conservative party.

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This has been an excellent debate with a thrilling and strong opening by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). Of all the public services, education has the greatest impact in shaping lives, promoting opportunity and ensuring economic strength. If we get education right today, we can be confident about the kind of society that we will have in 20 years’ time.

Today’s debate takes place after more than 10 years of a Labour Government, who promised that “education, education, education” would be their priority and whose manifesto promised “zero tolerance of underperformance”. I shall quote the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in his famous 1996 Labour party conference speech:

“We are 35th in the world league table of education standards. 35th. They say give me the boy at 7 and I’ll give you the man at 70. Well give me the education system that’s 35th in the world today and I’ll give you the economy that’s 35th tomorrow.”

The Secretary of State has demanded an acknowledgment that there has been an improvement since 1997, and I am happy to provide it. There has been a modest improvement, but instead of 35th in the world, we are now 29th on the same World Economic Forum league table. We are behind Belgium, Japan, New Zealand, Indonesia, Australia, Cyprus, France and Malta. We used to be ahead of the United States, but we are now 14 places behind it; we used to be ahead of China, but we are now behind both China and India, the great emerging economic giants. I ask myself whether this is the extent of Labour’s ambition: an education system that is 29th in the world, and therefore an economy that will be 29th in the world tomorrow. There has been a modest improvement, yes, but not on the scale promised in 1997 and not on the scale that we need if we are to compete in the knowledge economy of the new world.

Yes, standards of reading have risen from 63 per cent. in 1996 to 80 per cent. today, but one in five children still leave primary school unable to read properly. There is no excuse for that; in deprived parts of the country, there are primary schools with challenging intakes that get 100 per cent. of their children to level 4 in English. Some 40 per cent. of children leave primary school not having reached the expected level in reading, writing and maths combined; that same 40 per cent. go on to fail to achieve five good GCSEs.

Yes, there has been a modest improvement in GCSE results: 45 per cent. achieved five or more GCSEs in 1997, while 58 per cent. do so today. However, when we include English and maths, the figure is only 45 per cent., and if science is added in, it is only 40 per cent. The gap between the headline figure and the figure including English, maths and science has risen from 10 per cent. in 1997 to 18 percentage points today. Most alarming of all, the figure for 15-year-olds achieving a grade C or higher in English, maths, science and a language has actually fallen, from 27 per cent. in 1997 to 25.7 per cent. today.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) was right to point out the importance of the tests and how they reveal some deep-seated problems. It was refreshing to hear the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws); with Liberal Democrat education policy under his stewardship, I think there will be a growing consensus between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party, given that they are now in favour of academies.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) spoke passionately about education in his constituency. He mentioned particularly William Hulme’s grammar school, which I have visited and which is now in the state sector. In a thoughtful speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) pointed out the importance of setting by ability, of whole-class teaching and of good discipline and behaviour.

The problem with this Government is that in recent weeks they have focused too much on spin, and in the past 10 years they have focused too much on eye-catching initiatives. If the Government really want to raise standards in our schools, they need to challenge the ideology that has dominated the educational establishment during the past 30 or 40 years. That ideology led to “look and say” methods of teaching children to read, so that now 23 per cent. of adults cannot read the dosage on an aspirin bottle.

To say such things is not, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield suggested, to talk down the education system, but to point out the realities—

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rose—

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I shall not give way, because of the time available.

If we want a consensus, we have to address those realities so that we can address the solutions to such problems together. The ideology that I have mentioned led to mixed-ability teaching in our comprehensive schools; the bright become bored and the less able become disaffected, and that invites disruption and truancy. In an excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) was right to point out the difficulties of teaching mixed-ability classes, in which there are wide ranges of ability—with some children barely able to read and write and others who should be going to Oxford or Cambridge.

When the Labour party came to office, it promised more setting. Yet after 10 years in office, only 40 per cent. of academic lessons are set by ability. That means that six out of 10 lessons still take place in mixed-ability classes—the kind of classes that are difficult to teach, as my hon. Friend pointed out. I know that many Labour Members share those concerns.

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rose—

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I shall not give way, because of the time available.

The issue is not one of left or right, but about ensuring that our schools adopt tried and tested teaching methods and a curriculum that imparts knowledge as well as skills. It is about keeping out of our schools ideologically driven fads that have not been tested and that, when implemented, lead to declining standards.

The Government talk about wanting to improve behaviour in our schools, but they have made it increasingly difficult for head teachers to exclude disruptive pupils. They have refused to allow schools to make the signing of a home-school contract a condition of acceptance at a school. They have refused to abolish appeals panels, which second-guess the decisions of head teachers to exclude. As a result, a quarter of appeals are won by the excluded child, who then returns triumphantly to the school to challenge the authority of the head and the teaching staff. That is why teachers leave the teaching profession, and it is why standards are low in too many of our schools—51 per cent. of them according to Ofsted and the Secretary of State’s predecessor.

I had hoped that Education Ministers would follow the lead given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who put country before party advantage when he supported last year’s Education Bill, which would have fallen but for Conservative votes supporting the Government in the Aye Lobby. I had hoped that we could work together—I hope that we still can—to ensure higher standards in our schools. But all we now hear and read in the newspapers from the Minister for Schools and Learners and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is a return to the old politics of cynicism and spin. I say that more in sorrow than in anger. The country will have to wait two years before we can see a genuine reforming Government who will actually deliver higher standards in all of our schools.

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I welcome today’s debate and thank hon. Members for their insightful contributions, which I shall try to comment on in a moment.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has outlined the significant progress that has been made in our schools over the past few years since our dodgy inheritance from the Conservative party, but as he has also acknowledged, we know that our education system is not yet world class. While we have many outstanding examples of schools, with more children and young people than ever before performing to their best at school, we want excellence to be the standard available to all so that each child has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

We want to deliver genuine opportunity for all, overcoming attainment gaps and eradicating child poverty, ensuring that outcomes are determined by talent and hard work and building a fair society and a culture that celebrates success. Thanks to unprecedented investment over the past 10 years, and the immense dedication of all those who work in schools, we have exceptionally strong foundations to build on. We will continue to sharpen our focus on ensuring that every pupil gets a personalised education, responsive to their individual needs and supportive of their individual talents. We will get each child off to the best possible start in life by giving them the skills they need to thrive in the modern world.

Because we believe that learning is a right and not a privilege, and that everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from this right until at least the age of 18 as a precursor to a successful adult life, we will be legislating to extend this right to every single young person in England, and in doing so we will raise aspirations and galvanise the whole system to do better for our young people. We are prepared to put in the necessary investment to realise those bold ambitions, creating the world-class education system supportive of every unique individual that this Government are determined to deliver and to which Conservative Members only pay lip service.

The Opposition run down our achievements, while their spending plans make it very clear where their priorities lie. Their proposals to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million would cost £3 billion, delivering £2 billion in benefits to their old school friends in the richest 5,000 estates. By contrast, our priorities are to invest in a fair level of inheritance tax, and put the remaining £2 billion into health and education—proposals that properly meet the aspirations of the public for the future of their family, not just at the end of their lives but at the beginning of their children and grandchildrens’ lives too. That is an investment in everyone’s future, rather than immediate cashback for the wealthy.

What do our passion and priority for education mean to our constituents? One thing they all see is new schools. My capital announcement today means that by the end of the latest spending period there will have been a sevenfold increase in investment in real terms since 1997.

The new funding will go towards ensuring that our youngest children have the best possible learning environment—inspiring new buildings and integrated technology instead of the cramped classrooms, peeling paint and outside loos under the Tories. We can not only build 675 replacement primaries in England and more than 400 new secondaries, but provide new money for councils not yet in the Building Schools for the Future programme for special educational needs pupils and diplomas. We can also provide more money for school kitchens and, of course, £3 billion devolved straight to schools and more than £4.5 billion devolved to councils.

In 1997, the Tories’ whole capital budget was well short of only £1 billion. However, our determination is not only to create successful schools but to support strong and confident families, thus helping families to help themselves. How can children achieve in school if we do not do better for their health, safety and early development, and support their parents and carers? Through the children’s plan, about which we are currently consulting, we draw on the expertise of all those who live with, work with and understand children in order best to address those genuinely tough issues.

Through the 10-year youth strategy and its commitment of more than £650 million, we have signalled our intent to offer young people the opportunity to develop and grow through participating in positive activities beyond school. The Labour party—the Government—is committed to putting its money where its mouth is.

We have had an engaging debate, although at times it has spread more heat than light. It was led by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who displayed a mastery of drama but gets no marks for history. He said that he wanted to set up more parent-promoted schools, but parents already have the power to establish schools under the Education and Inspections Act 2006. The first parent-promoted school, Elmgreen school in Lambeth, opened this September, with support from the Labour council and local Labour Members of Parliament. As it expands, it is due to move into a new building. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can have a word with local Tory councillor Andrew Gibson, who opposes expanding a parent-promoted school.

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) made an interesting speech, which contrasted with that of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. He asked about child poverty. It is the joint responsibility of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Treasury to tackle that. All three Departments take a joint lead and, as he said, we have a public service agreement target to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it by 2020. The DWP is investing £150 million in helping parents get back into work, and our Department is improving education and access and funding to child care. On 2 August, £4 billion over three years was announced for children’s centres and child care. That includes child care to support 50,000 parents into work or training.

The Chairman of the Select Committee made a thoughtful speech and demonstrated why he commands respect from all hon. Members. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath needs to learn from that.

The hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) drew on her experience of teaching when the previous Government were in power. She supported abolishing exclusion appeals despite the inevitability of that increasing the number of cases that go to the courts and posing a huge threat to special educational needs pupils and their parents. It is up to local authorities to decide whether to keep open, replace or build special schools. Today, I have allocated £608 million to local authorities that are late in the Building Schools for the Future programme, asking them to spend it on diplomas and special educational needs provision in their areas.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) spoke about the brain zone in his constituency. His intelligent speech was certainly in concert with that.

The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) also contributed to the debate. I was delighted to visit his constituency last month, where I saw the effect of the June floods and the extraordinary efforts of staff in the school that I visited, led by their head teacher John Bennett. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the £61.7 million that I have allocated to his local authority in my announcement today.

The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) made a thoughtful speech, which made me wonder why he had not been promoted to the position of shadow Secretary of State. However, he repeated the statistic regarding five A* to C grades, including English, maths, science and a language. The proportion of pupils studying a language has fallen because it is no longer compulsory—a change that was made in 1997. Using that statistic is therefore simply spin and the hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of himself for doing that.

I welcome the opportunities offered by today’s debate to acknowledge the commitment and dedication of all those working in our schools. I recognise that we have more to do to ensure that every child reaches their full potential through school and is able to find an education that inspires and motivates them beyond the age of 16. However, unlike the Conservative party, we have the answers—through our commitment to personalised learning, the package of reforms for young people, including the youth strategy, new, challenging choices to study diplomas and extending every young person’s learning until the age of 18.

The Conservatives are rich in rhetoric, good on gimmicks and poor in policy. They run down the achievements of pupils and teachers while offering nothing new. We have the policies to build the world-class education system to which we aspire. We will continue to invest in children, schools and families, to drive up standards and to give teachers the discipline powers for which they ask. We will continue to win the argument with the Opposition as we have done on selection, the curriculum, and early years.

I therefore urge hon. Members to defeat the Conservatives in the Lobby by rejecting their vacuous motion.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

Division 205

10 October 2007

The House divided:

Ayes: 231
Noes: 313

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House commends the real and substantial improvements achieved over the past decade in educational standards and welcomes the Government’s commitment to a world class education for all; applauds the unprecedented investment in education over this period, so that per pupil revenue spending has increased nationally by £1,840 per pupil (66 per cent.) in real terms between 1997-98 and 2007-08 and that by 2010-11 there will have been a seven fold increase in real terms in capital investment since 1996-97; acknowledges the proportion of pupils achieving the required standard in English at age 11 increased from 63 per cent. in 1997 to 80 per cent. in 2007 and in maths from 62 per cent. to 77 per cent.; further acknowledges that the proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSEs (at A*-C grades) increased from 45.1 per cent. in 1997 to 58.5 per cent. in 2006 and from just 35.6 per cent. to 45.3 per cent. for those achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths; notes that in 1997 there were 616 schools where less than 25 per cent. of pupils achieved five good GCSEs and that this number fell to 47 in 2006; welcomes the proposal to raise the participation age for education or training to 18 years; further welcomes the launch of the first five Diplomas as a key step towards this objective; and further commends the 10 Year Youth Plan and the creation of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, bringing together strategic leadership for all services to drive up standards, tackle poverty and ensure all children and young people have a safe, secure and happy childhood.